by Cindy Knoebel

This article was written using information provided in a letter by Amina Salvador, who was trafficked into the US from the UK in 2009. She has been detained by ICE, and transferred between six different detention centers, for three years. Currently detained at Laredo Processing Center in Texas, Amina has lost her asylum case, her appeal has been dismissed, and a stay denied. She continues to fight for her dignity and is looking for defense under the Trafficking Victims Defense Act and/or a U-visa. Please consider a contribution to her Go Fund Me campaign.

Cindy Knoebel: While in detention, you have been trying to contact the police about the sex trafficking you endured. Tell us more.

Amina Salvador: I have been waiting three years to report the sexual trafficking to the police. For months I have asked repeatedly to use the phone but each time have been refused by ICE and facility staff to make calls to law enforcement. The officer in charge of the land line available here has done nothing to assist me. He’s usually asleep at his desk rather than assisting the detainees with much needed, desperate help to save their own lives.

Once, back in May when I was able to use the phone, an ICE officer who had been harassing me contacted the police to discuss the trafficking and encouraged them not to assist me.

I have also written to the police five times via certified mail but I have yet to receive a copy of the police report, which is essential to my case.

CK: You’ve also experienced physical abuse while in detention. What happened?

AS: I was terrorized and beaten by the medical staff. Two nurses tried to strangle me.

I couldn’t breathe, and one of the nurses kicked me repeatedly. They also forced medication down my throat, which made me throw up for a long time. During the whole attack, one of the nurses shouted at me repeatedly and aggressively. I was on the floor, in pain. The medical staff, other detainees and the ICE officer have witnessed me falling to the ground, clutching my chest in great pain.

I went to the Hospital Accident and Emergency Section, and when I came out, I was forced to stay in the Medical Section of the jail for two weeks. When I walked in, I noticed a rancid scent coming from the toilet. When I looked inside, I saw it was clogged with urine and feces. There were also dead cockroaches under the bed and on the floor. The floor in the Medical Section was pebble, dashed with dirt. The sink stank of sewage. The room was clearly not fit for someone with chronic health conditions who had just been released from the hospital.

I never suffered from any chronic illnesses prior to being in ICE custody. My asthma and anxiety attacks only started after I was detained.

CK: I understand that you have been threatened both by the traffickers who exploited you as well as by ICE officers and facility staff. What did they say to you?

AS: The traffickers that exploited me tortured and threatened me and told me I would be deported if I said anything about what they did to me. They also said they knew several ICE and facility officers and that it wouldn’t be difficult to deport me back to the UK.

Death threats by ICE officers and the facility staff are in line with those of the traffickers.  And the facility staff have written disciplinary reports on very trivial incidents, which are being used to harass me and which could affect my release. The staff has made every effort to segregate me.

CK: What else can you tell us about conditions at the facility?

AS: The food here is by no means healthy and nutritious, and quite often is inedible. At times the food is raw, which can lead to salmonella and food poisoning; I’ve suffered from food poisoning on more than one occasion.

The jail is very unhygienic and has had infestations of ants and cockroaches. I’ve received insect bites especially during the night and early morning hours. The problem is now enormous.

The clothing sheets, blankets, towels and especially underwear are disgustingly dirty and soiled with excrement from previous users. Once, after I was forced to wear clothing so foul smelling that I felt like vomiting, I tried to wash them. The water was filthy black and again stank. There were menstrual blood stains on at least two pairs of panties I was forced to wear.

CK: Given your health issues, and overall abysmal conditions in detention centers in general, you must feel extremely vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus.

AS: As a result of Fraihat v ICE class action lawsuit, courts have ruled that those with specific risk factors comprised of pre-existing conditions, including pregnancy, people over 55 and those with serious health issues, are eligible for release. Given my serious health conditions, I am a member of that class. I am unable to practice safe precautions to prevent me from getting contaminated. I am not able to social distance by staying six feet apart from others. The jail will not allow hand sanitizers to be used in the dorms. There is no regular cleaning of surfaces, door knobs, handles and repeatedly touched areas.

The mental pressure I have had to endure in ICE custody has been unbearable. I wake up daily with aches and pains on top of the horrible health conditions I have to deal with daily. I am in constant pain and my sleep pattern has been severely impacted. My hair has started to fall out by the handful.

CK: What else do you want our readers to know about you?

AS: I have never committed a crime nor have I ever been convicted of a crime. Due to my health conditions, I should be released from custody. I have made requests to ICE but they never responded. Also, my 90-day review is coming up and I am afraid that the bogus disciplinary write-ups against me will prevent my release.

I am in urgent need of an attorney, and have been trying to get help for a long time.

If I am released, I will clearly be much better off, I will still be a victim of the illnesses I mentioned but at least I will have my family and friends around and will be in a much safer place. Dealing with pain and trauma can be endured in the right environment, such as being at home and around the right people.